Camrose Casino held an open house on April 17 and 18 to discuss their bid to relocate their casino inside the City of Edmonton.
Scott Mather, president of New Star Capital which owns and operates the casino, spoke on both nights to an in-person crowd and to viewers online.
The open houses were to bring people up to speed on the Casino’s efforts to relocate to Edmonton. The process began with an application to relocate being presented to Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) in September, 2021.
In April of that year, Edmonton city councillors approved the rezoning of the casino lands and the Edmonton planning department advertised for public appeals to the development permit.
The permit was approved in August, 2022 with no appeals. However, the AGLC denied the relocation request in November, 2022.
Reasons to relocate
Charity groups can raise funds by volunteering at licensed charity casinos for two-day events; average revenues are then paid out on a quarterly basis.
In Alberta, revenues are pooled and distributed by regions, whereas in places like B.C. and Ontario revenues are pooled as a province and then distributed as a type of grant by a government regulator. This ensures that rural charitable organizations can receive equal revenues to urban groups.
In Alberta, regions are broken up into rural and urban regions and only certain groups can receive funds from their respective regional gaming centres.
Wait times and revenues differ drastically between urban and rural regions. Currently, the Camrose Casino and the St. Albert Casino are the only two AGLC gaming regions in the province that pool their revenues.
Edmonton Urban Charities receive around $39,000 in annualized revenue while the Camrose region receives $6,100 and St. Albert region charities $8,100.
Groups in Edmonton have approximately 23-month waiting periods while the wait time is between 31 and 41 months in Camrose and St. Albert.
Relocating a rural license to Edmonton would help to equalize the funds received from rural and urban charities. If the move is approved, rural charities will increase earnings by $25 to $51,000 from a single event, even with urban charities still receiving 34 per cent more from events.
AGLC itself has reported that one of its consensus topics to improve casinos could involve pooling and distributing provincially and not regionally.
They have also suggested that a rural license be brought into Edmonton to help equalize revenues distributed. This would allow the gap in charity revenues to be closed between the two groups without sweeping legislation.
In 2019, the AGLC approved the relocation of the Northlands Racing Entertainment Centre (REC).
The new facility is 60 kilometres from the Camrose facility, and has 600 Electronic Gaming Machines, compared to Camrose’s 208.
The Northlands REC also has no charity involvement. This means that the revenue lost from those travelling to the Northlands property instead of Camrose does not get distributed to charity groups.
The AGLC also approved the relocation of the Louis Bull First Nations Bear Hills Casino. The new facility will be 55 kilometres from the Camrose property.
It will also draw from the revenue in the region, especially those in the Wetaskiwin area. Revenues from First Nations Casinos go largely into thr First Nations Development Fund and towards the community.
AGLC’S rejection reasons
The AGLC cited five reasons why they would not approve the relocation of Camrose Casino.
– Cannibalization of existing casino operations
– Limited new gaming revenues
– Negative impact on Horse Racing Alberta (HRA) and the First Nations Development Fund (FNDF)
– Lack of community support
According to information presented at the open house, four of the five points go against AGLC’s own information.
Relocation of the license would have a minimal material impact on existing operators.
A third party consultation reported to AGLC that there is a potential $7 to 28 million in new gaming revenue for AGLC each year by allowing the move.
In regard to negatively impacting HRA and the FNDF, Mather’s presentation shows that Camrose and St. Albert’s combined revenue is $ 4.6 million per year. While the HRA receives $ 34 million per year, FNDF receives $117 million per year.
As for lack of support, Mather says that the AGLC had received letters blocking the relocation from 250 Edmonton charities and other groups, as well as the mayor of the city.
They are hoping that people will write to AGLC to show support for the move. This was one of the main goals of hosting the open house presentations.
The owners and operators of the Camrose facility hope that they can get more people to show their support for the move.
A new facility in Edmonton would allow the parent company to offer existing staff members employment at the urban location and give them better compensation.
The Camrose Hotel would then be able to replace the casino with a new entertainment facility on the property which would allow existing employees to continue working locally if they so chose.
With the Northlands facility already contributing to the financial instability of the Camrose Casino, and local groups losing out on revenues, the First Nations casino will worsen the problem.
If the Camrose Casino were to close, this would cause around 250 rural charities to be without a gaming centre from which to draw fundraising monies.
Since many of the groups are from Edmonton’s bedroom communities such as Sherwood Park, and even Devon, they might be taken in under the urban region that Edmonton casinos service.
There are currently provincial politicians who are pushing to have the former Camrose groups divided amongst the already over-loaded Red Deer and St. Albert regions if the Camrose casino shuts its doors.
The AGLC cited a lack of community support for the project. AGLC had received letters from approximately 250 Edmonton charities and groups against the Camrose relocation as well as the mayor and members of city council
Other points cited for the relocation request being denied was the cannibalization of existing casino operator revenues, despite their own data showing a minimal effect on existing operations.
They also cited limited new gaming revenue, despite AGLC’s third-party consultation predicting $7 to 28 million of new revenue for AGLC each year.
The denial was also cited due to the negative impact it would have on Horse Racing Alberta and First Nations Development Fund.
For this, the casino again points out that according to AGLC’s own information, the FNDF receives approximately $ 117 million per year whereas the Camrose and St. Albert Casinos which pool their charitable revenues receive only $4.6 million per year.
AGLC is holding an appeal of their decision for the Camrose Casino later this spring, and the owners are hoping to drum up enough support for the relocation from those in the region.